“The battle we face is not against Facebook,” Kirk Cameron says. “The real battle is the battle of the heart and the mind.”
Cameron is talking about the main takeaway from his new special “Kirk Cameron: Connect.” “Connect” is a film about the dangers of social media. Produced and starring Cameron, the former 1980s teen heartthrob (“Growing Pains”) and current producer of Christian-themed movies (“Fireproof”), “Connect” is two hours of insight about protecting kids - and ourselves - in the age of ubiquitous digital devices and the often dark world they contain.
The message in this captivating and sometimes disturbing film is that kids need to be trained to want to avoid the soul-killing side the internet. As a pastor named Ken Graves points out in the film, training is different from teaching. To teach is to instruct a child not to touch a hot stove. To train involves habituating the young to behavior that will not just keep them out of danger, but allow them to flourish. There is a difference between being told not to watch pornography and acquiring the discipline, based on knowledge, the habit of proper decision making, and finally self-mastery, to genuinely not want to watch - to be a person who is free enough to not want to watch.
“This was a real journey for me, personally an eye-opening experience,” Cameron told me from his home in Los Angeles. “I’m coming at this as a father. For my six kids, who all have phones, and some them need their phones for their sports or school or jobs, I’m really concerned about the way it’s affecting them. I’m pro technology, but they desperately need wisdom. As parents, we need help because no one has ever done this before.”
Cameron uses the term “pioneer parents” to indicate that the iPhone world is something totally new: “You can’t go to your parents or grandparents and ask how they dealt with social media, because it didn’t exist. They didn’t have it back then. The iPhone was invented ten years ago - only ten years ago. It’s only now that the reports are coming out because no one knew what this would to kids.
“Connect” profiles experts like neurosurgeon Ian Armstrong, who describes how the digital grid manipulates the reward center in the brain. Armstrong explains how hormones make teens process information differently than their younger kids, and that digital interference in this formative stage can adversely affect their brains. Getting friends and pings on social media provides a boost of positive serotonin, a quick shot of joy in the brain that can be habit forming. Like Dr. Armstrong, Kathy Koch, PhD, author of “Screens and Teens,” offers perceptive analysis of the teen desire to belong, and how this leaves them open to immersion on social media, which can quickly make them victims of abuse and bullying.
Cameron admits that there is no going back to the analog world, and says that as a fan of technology himself he doesn’t want to. He just wants kids to be smart consumers who are able to practice some self-mastery. I offer that it sounds like Cameron is pitching a form of the Jedi training Luke Skywalker receives in Star Wars. It’s an analogy Cameron says hits the mark: “I really like that comparison. How do you learn to be a Jedi? You need an Obi-Wan. You need a Yoda. Because let’s face it, technology is not going anywhere.”
He concludes: “Our kids more than anything need parents who can show them the superiority of living life not for the approval of their Instagram friends but for the approval of heaven, and to love God with all their heart, and their neighbor as themselves, and we need to model that for our kids and show the the superiority of real friendship and relationships, not hollow, fake followers shaping their sense of identity and purpose and destiny in the world.”
Connect will be shown on February 27 and March 1 in 750 select movie theaters through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network (DBN).